Virginia Officially Lost Its Damn Mind 2: MORE Blackface Boogaloo
Disgraced Michael Jackson impersonator Ralph Northam is still governor of Virginia. He's hoping to moonwalk away from his absurd blackface/KKK scandal. Tuesday, New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin tweeted that Northam was planning to hire a private eye to "clear his name." Presumably, they'll hunt for a one-armed Klan member in blackface. Surely, Virginia has better things to do than provide endless material for late night comedians. Every Democrat and their mother has called for Northam to step down and make way for Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, whose black face is authentic.
But Fairfax has his own, less amusing, scandal brewing. A woman accused him of sexually assaulting her in 2004. Fairfax insists someone is trying to take him down. He's not sure who exactly, but suspects range from Northam and his supporters to Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, whom Fairfax reportedly hung up on last night. Fairfax has already advanced in mad paranoia to Act Five Macbeth and he hasn't even killed blackface Duncan yet.
Fortunately, if both these guys go down, Virginia is in good hands with Attorney General Mark Herring. Herring declared this weekend that it was "no longer possible for Governor Northam to lead our Commonwealth and it is time for him to step down." Obviously, Herring is safe and scandal free.
Oh, for fuck's sake.
Herring issued a statement on Twitter that's almost as long as the book Black Like Me. He admits to having also worn blackface as a student at the University of Virginia, where he was pursuing a degree in minstrel studies. When he was 19, Herring and some friends decided to attend a party dressed like rappers and perform in "wigs and brown makeup." He claims they were imitating Kurtis Blow and dates this "one-time" blackface event as occurring in 1980. Here's a video of Blow on "Soul Train" in 1980.
We confess that we'd love to see Herring try to sing "The Breaks" at his "I'm totally not racist" press conference, but just like the party pooper Northam married, Herring's wife would probably put the kibosh on it.
The KKK photo on Northam's yearbook page is on its own, pro-domestic terrorism level, but there is something almost endearing about Northam and Herring, as young men, attempting to connect with a black culture that was quickly becoming mainstream culture. In the early '80s, MTV refused to even play videos by black artists. Is it possible a teenage Herring was sneaking around watching Don Cornelius on Saturday mornings?
Conservative society long feared that their children listening to "race" music (be it jazz, rock, or later hip-hop) would somehow turn them black. Northam and Herring literalized this fear with some shoe polish. This doesn't excuse their actions. Historically, blackface is often an attempt to put on a "savage" mask, to "escape" the "civilization" of whiteness and become every stereotype associated with black culture. It's hardly an homage.
There's some irony in all this taking place in Virginia. White supremacists marched in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue commemorating slave owner and loser of wars Robert E. Lee. Conservatives who insist they're not racist have voiced support for Confederate memorials because they represent "history." It's wrong to erase "history," they claim, even "unpleasant history." Yet they seem to want to have it both ways. You can't have a state cluttered with monuments to people who literally fought and died to keep black people as furniture while simultaneously claiming complete ignorance of the history of racism in America, including the use of blackface.
If you want our forgiveness for your past racial transgressions, then remove the Confederate monuments, which clearly aren't doing their job preserving history, and listen to black people. Try listening to us before we cry out in pained betrayal.
Before the whole mess started, Fairfax refused to participate in the state Senate's tribute to Robert E. Lee, whom Sen. Richard H. Stuart called a "great Virginian and a great American." When you're white and commit treason, you're still considered a "great American."
It's important that Virginians understand and appreciate their history, but it's time to end racist propaganda in the guise of willful ignorance.
Meanwhile, back at the governor's mansion, it grows clearer every day that the only person we can trust to run Virginia now is Stacey Abrams. I don't care if the sister is from Georgia. She can swing by the Richmond DMV and update her driver's license. The country needs her.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.